Indy Fringe part 3

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Third in a series of blogs on experiences at Indy Fringe 2009. For more, click here and here.  

I knew I had to hit the wall eventually.

That wall came in the form of what should have been a slam dunk on a kiddie basketball court. How hard is it to engage a willing audience in a fun game of Bingo while playing a pair of silly characters?

Judging from a Sunday afternoon visit with “Wanda & Rhonda’s Bitchin’ Bingo Bash,” it’s more difficult than it seems. 

One of the two actors playing the title sisters struggled with scripted lines, which were attempted at a “Gilmore Girl”-ish clip (odd, since Bingo balls were being called at a very slow pace). Some laughs were there, but more would have been generated if accompanied by interesting (or, at least, funny) characters or a more solid sense of place. Some political/gender issues were raised, but not in an original, insightful or particularly comedic way.

Worse, the performers seemed anxious for the show and the game to end, complaining of the lack of a winner before a half hour was up. Once a Bingo was called, they rushed to end the festivities at just after the 35 minute mark, squandering the goodwill of the audience. There are so many ways this show could have worked, but Blue Sky Productions/Arrowberry Productions didn’t seem to be looking for them. A shame.

I somehow missed Phil Van Hest’s previous Indy Fringe appearances. And, judging from “Phil the Void — The Great Brain Robbery,” I’m a lesser person for it. 

Van Hest’s latest show deals with our need for connectivity, a topic that leads him into the Internet, the economic collapse, belching and naked hang gliding.  It’s akin to a biggie-sized “Daily Show” opening rant (without the snarkiness) tempered with Lily Tomlin’s “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life” sense of awe, cut with David Cross hipness, kneaded with Mort Sahl’s brains, and tempered with Lenny Bruce’s outrage.

That being said, Van Hest is an original. In a fair and reasonable world, he’d be playing the Murat. Highly recommended. 

I ended Sunday with a return visit to the Chicago comedy group “Cool Table” in a self-titled show. Coming out of the gate with a strong set of sketches where the character reactions earned as many laughs as the punch lines, the group petered out after about a half hour, limping to a lackluster “thank you and good night.” The crew didn’t even bother to resolve a funny “Dudes helping dudes” running gag that begged for a kicker. No director is credited in the program, but the group clearly needs someone to step up and think beyond the individual sketches to the overall show.

And so ended Sunday. At least for me.

IBJ reporter Kathleen McLaughlin was also on Mass Ave. She spent an hour at “7 (x1) Samurai.” Here are her thoughts:

Good thing I didn’t gather from the description of David Gaines’ one-man show that he’s a mime. Or a clown. Yech and yuck. Prepare to set aside every past crappy clown experience, as well as anything you remember from the actual “Seven Samurai,” Akira Kurosawa’s 3 1/2 hour film. As Gaines warns in his program, “Liberties are taken, but the result is more animated and funnier.”Gaines’ show will remind you of those old Warner Bros. cartoons, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. A few jokes, such as the humble peasant’s stop at “Acme Samurai,” might elicit a bemused groan. Most of the time, he gets your attention, and some laughs, with surprising attention to detail. Gaines brings to life seven different samurai character sketches and manages to keep them distinct. (I know that’s implied in the title, but I didn’t realize what a feat that would be until they began to unfold. OK, there’s samurai one, two and three… how’s he going to make SEVEN?)

My favorite warrior was the one whom I imagined as an ancient sort of Edward Scissorhands. Gaines creates an amusing scene around that particular samurai’s vanquishing foes, and he goes at it with gusto. The scene ends with a gross-out factor that’s more Itchy and Scratchy than Bugs and Elmer. If you can gross someone out through pantomime, I’d say you’ve mastered your art.

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